With faithful expectation, my parents of Lutheran tradition from both German and Swedish descent had me baptized in the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church shortly after my birth. This was dutifully followed by primary education in a Lutheran parochial school who’s construction my father’s parents had sacrificially assisted with. My training culminated in my confirmation as a Christian and a member of the church around my twelfth birthday, but all was not well with my soul.
Shortly after moving to southern Idaho in 1968, my father divorced my mother for the second time. The first time was after the birth of my oldest brother and sister and the second time was when I was five, now the youngest of five children. My mother started a career of minimum-wage jobs to support us, and I quickly became a poster child for latch-key kids.
While continuing to memorize Bible verses, go to church, and participate in youth group, I began a slow but steady slide into spiritual apathy and indolence. A key event that hastened this process was the return of my eldest brother from the Air Force. I idolized him. Unfortunately, he was cut from the same cloth as my father with a penchant for wine, women, and self focus. While seeking to look, talk, and act like him, I was cast onto the rocky shoals of junior high and found myself a misfit in both the spiritual and carnal worlds.
I was too weak-willed to physically chase my lusts, except in my mind, and too “traditional” to not maintain appearances at home and church. The result was a sullen five-year period avoiding everyone, watching endless hours of television, and sneaking my brother’s adult magazines. While my mom continued to work long hours to maintain the house and put food on the table, I did little to help.
When I reached a deep valley of self loathing in my junior year of high school, instead of confessing my sins to God, I decided to improve myself through self-help books like How to Make Friends and Influence People and The Greatest Salesman. I signed up for speech classes, started running for class and club offices at school, and even joined a pyramid marketing organization that fed me with ladles of positive thinking…about myself! The results were impressive, but not spiritually healthy.
Soon I was president of several clubs, valedictorian, and voted smartest in my senior class, with the result that the skin on my head was stretched tight but my soul was shriveled. The problem was one of hollowness. I was miserable just below the surface of my pleasant and now outgoing personality.
My turning point came when my sister, who is five years my senior, returned changed from the University of Idaho. Having experienced her motherly tutelage during my formative years, I can testify that she was now joyful and full of grace. Unable to hold back – some habits take time to change – she cornered me and let me know in no uncertain terms that Jesus died for me. Reminding her that I had practically been raised in the narthex of the church, I responded that this was nothing new. Still she was persistent to make it clear that Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection were personally connected with my sins and that if I got hold of this reality it would change me. Did she know more than me? I pushed her off, but her words haunted me.
About a month later, around Christmas 1980, when everyone was supposed to be happy on the outside and inside, her words came to blows with the angst of my proud soul. In a fit of depression, I negotiated with God that if He would give me joy and peace like I witnessed in my sister, I would commit to read the Bible cover to cover over the next year with the intent to really know Him.
Whether I was “saved” before this experience I don’t care to debate. What I do know was that from that moment, I was certain that God was real and gracious and that I wanted to know Him more than anything else.
I began daily Bible reading, attending Young Life, and hosting a Bible study in my home. But the real change happened when I started my engineering studies at the University of Idaho in the fall of 1981. The Christian community in Moscow was vibrant, where Bible teachers from a number of churches worked together to offer noon studies, seminars, and men’s retreats. The biggest difference was the teaching. For the first time, I heard and understood that the Bible was true and relevant. It was to be read, believed, and obeyed without excuses – something that the leaders called “practical Christian living.”
For the first time I learned how to confess my sins, deal with my bitterness toward my father and resist lust. More than this, I was blessed by a mosaic of Christians from various evangelical denominations and para-church organizations. I could not get enough even though I attended six or seven Bible studies a weeks in addition to my engineering studies. In the months and years that followed, the teaching and leaders’ examples were foundational to my Christian walk. As a culmination to all these blessings, I found my life-long partner, Renae, mother to our seven biological and two adopted children, and entered a 20+ year career with an international mining company.
Thinking back over these years, the verse “God remains faithful even when we are faithless” (2 Timothy 2:13) marks well my passage to adulthood. Even though I did not rack up a crowd-stirring testimony of physical rebellion and personal destruction, the internalization of my sin was in some ways more potent since I was able to hide, excuse, or ignore it most of the time. Praise be to God! His Word was like a light shining in a dark place revealing my sin for what it was and making clear that my only option was to rest fully on His provision for my sins in the death of Jesus, His Son, on the cross, His burial, and His resurrection from the dead on the third day.